Christmas CAN be saved from Covid – but PHE boss says tougher lockdown may be needed


Dr Susan Hopkins, a senior doctor at Public Health England, said she was ‘very keen’ to give Britons a normal Christmas

Christmas get-togethers look set to be given the green-light but it will mean living with bolstered lockdown measures before and after the festive period, officials said today. 

Dr Susan Hopkins, a senior doctor at Public Health England, said she was ‘very keen’ to give Britons a ‘normal’ Christmas after a tumultuous year that has seen families kept apart for months on end.

There were reports overnight that ministers are mulling a decision to loosen restrictions between December 24 and 28. Government chiefs are also said to be considering proposals which would allow family ‘bubbles’ of up to four households who will able to meet for Christmas.  

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference today, Dr Hopkins said she believes ‘it is possible’. But she warned for every day that measures are loosened, ‘we will need two days of tighter restrictions’. It could mean spending New Year in some form of lockdown. 

Dr Hopkins said: ‘We are very keen that we have a Christmas as close to normal as possible. That requires all of us to make every effort over this national restriction period, and even in early December, to get the cases as low as possible and to reduce the risk of transmission within households and between families. 

‘A final decision, of course, will rest with the Government and we look forward to hearing what those plans are.’

There are rumblings of an upgraded tiered lockdown system when England comes out of its national shutdown on December 2, which could see pubs forced to stay shut and a new 9pm alcohol curfew in Covid hotspots.

Dr Hopkins added: ‘Coming into Christmas, we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible. 

‘Hopefully the Government will make the decision that will allow us to have some mixing but we will wait and see what that is. 

‘And then I think, once we have got past the Christmas period, if there’s been a release and some socialisation we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again.’ 

Deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean said SAGE had been examining potential relaxation of measures over Christmas.

She told today’s briefing: ‘We did send some advice in over the weekend. But we genuinely don’t know what decisions have been made.’

Millions of Britons have today been given a major boost that their number one Christmas wish - to be with their family members - could be granted this year. Pictured: Pedestrians wearing face masks walk past Christmas lights on Oxford Street yesterday

Millions of Britons have today been given a major boost that their number one Christmas wish – to be with their family members – could be granted this year. Pictured: Pedestrians wearing face masks walk past Christmas lights on Oxford Street yesterday

The five day period has reportedly been chosen because Christmas Eve falls on a Thursday this year. It will mean many, but not all workers, will then have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, followed by Sunday, December 27, and a planned Bank Holiday on Monday, December 28

The five day period has reportedly been chosen because Christmas Eve falls on a Thursday this year. It will mean many, but not all workers, will then have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, followed by Sunday, December 27, and a planned Bank Holiday on Monday, December 28

Ministers and experts reportedly want to review the direction of Covid death figures (pictured above) and infection numbers across the UK before green-lighting any proposals

Ministers and experts reportedly want to review the direction of Covid death figures (pictured above) and infection numbers across the UK before green-lighting any proposals

However hopes of a family Christmas were further boosted last night, after case numbers (pictured) in the UK continued to flatline

However hopes of a family Christmas were further boosted last night, after case numbers (pictured) in the UK continued to flatline

Nicola Sturgeon makes it ILLEGAL to travel outside of Level 3 and 4 lockdown areas as she plunges 2.3MILLION people in 11 areas into toughest restrictions from Friday 

Nicola Sturgeon last night announced parts of Scotland that are home to millions of people will be moved into its toughest coronavirus level at the end of the week as she warned infection rates remain ‘stubbornly high’.

The First Minister said 11 council areas, which include the city of Glasgow, will be subject to Level Four restrictions from 6pm on Friday. The areas have a combined population of approximately 2.3million people.

People living in Level Four areas are banned from meeting with other households indoors while all non-essential shops must close.

In an announcement to the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon told people in those areas is that they ‘should not be going out and about’ while the measures are place for the three weeks – until December 11.

The SNP leader also announced she is making it illegal for people to travel into or out of Level Three and Level Four areas ‘except for certain essential purposes’.

There is already guidance in place urging people not to make such journeys, but Ms Sturgeon said the advice will become law from Friday. It means rule-breakers face the prospect of enforcement action from the police.

The council areas in Scotland moving to Level Four from Friday are the City of Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.

Ms Sturgeon said there was ‘grounds for continued and significant concern’ in all of the areas being moved into Level Four.

As well as the 11 areas being elevated to the top tier, two areas are being moved from Level Three to Level Two while 19 will experience no change.

The latest Covid-19 update came as last night:

  • Britain recorded 1.7% fewer coronavirus cases than last Tuesday with 20,051 new infections – as death toll rises 12.4% in a week to 598;
  • Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to make it illegal to travel outside Level 3 and 4 areas as she plunges 2.3million people in Scotland into toughest restrictions;
  • A devastating report exposed chronic bungling and ‘jobs for pals’ in rush to source safety gear during pandemic; 
  • Study finds even survivors who had mild COVID-19 are protected for at least 8 months and their immune ‘memory’ may last MUCH longer; 
  • A new study found even survivors who had mild COVID-19 are protected for at least 8 months and their immune ‘memory’ may last MUCH longer;
  • Another report claimed cases of Covid-19 in the summer were 16 TIMES higher in the UK than official figures suggest – with more than 5 MILLION Britons infected by the end of August

The welcome news came as Downing Street last night declared that Boris Johnson wanted to ‘ensure people can spend time with close family over Christmas’. However no decision has yet been made on the plans.

Ministers and experts reportedly want to review the direction of Covid death figures and infection numbers across the UK before green-lighting any proposals.

However hopes of a family Christmas were further boosted last night, after case numbers in the UK continued to flatline.

Under the proposals, reported in the Sun, households would be allowed to mix for up to five days, starting on Christmas Eve.

The five day period has reportedly been chosen because Christmas Eve falls on a Thursday this year.

It will mean many, but not all workers, will then have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, followed by Sunday, December 27, and a planned Bank Holiday on Monday, December 28.

Ministers reportedly want to make the Christmas rules standard across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – all of which have recently had varying levels of Covid restrictions in place.

According to the Times, the period for easing of restrictions could be much shorter – between two or three days.

The paper also reports that the number of households able to mix in ‘bubbles’ could be limited to just two or three households.

Scientific advisers have reportedly urged the Government against easing rules too much, with some warning case numbers could double or quadruple over the Christmas period. 

Talks between the four nations are set to take place at a later date, with ministers in the devolved nations said to be keen to wait for more data before making a decision.   

Meanwhile, a Downing Street spokesperson last night told the Sun: ‘We are looking at ways to ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult year.’ 

The reports come amid a split between cabinet members over plans for a ‘strengthened’ Covid tier system, which could see indoor socialising banned across much of the country for months.

Ministers are preparing for a bitter fight over the details of a beefed-up system of ‘regional’ restrictions which are due to be published next week.

A Whitehall source said Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove were attempting to ‘rein in everything’ and allow only a modest loosening of restrictions when the current lockdown rules expire on December 2.

However, other senior ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Alok Sharma, Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Home Secretary Priti Patel, are said to be gearing up to push for a wider reopening to allow businesses to salvage part of their Christmas trade. 

The new restrictions are expected to last for months, with only the short break over Christmas to allow more contact with family and friends.

Downing Street yesterday insisted that Boris Johnson, who is in self-isolating having been in contact with a fellow Tory MP who tested positive for Covid, remains determined to end the current restrictions on December 2.

Under the proposals, reported in the Sun, households would be allowed to mix for up to five days, starting on Christmas Eve

Under the proposals, reported in the Sun, households would be allowed to mix for up to five days, starting on Christmas Eve

It comes as Downing Street said yesterday that Boris Johnson wanted to 'ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas'

It comes as Downing Street said yesterday that Boris Johnson wanted to ‘ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas’

A Whitehall source said Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove were attempting to 'rein in everything' and allow only a modest loosening of restrictions when the current lockdown rules expire on December 2

However, other senior ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured), are said to be gearing up to push for a wider reopening to allow businesses to salvage part of their Christmas trade.

A Whitehall source said Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured left) and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove were attempting to ‘rein in everything’ and allow only a modest loosening of restrictions when the current lockdown rules expire on December 2. However, other senior ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured right), are said to be gearing up to push for a wider reopening to allow businesses to salvage part of their Christmas trade.

Britain records 1.7% fewer coronavirus cases than last Tuesday with 20,051 new infections 

Britain last night recorded 1.7 per cent fewer coronavirus cases compared to last week in yet another indication the UK’s second wave is slowing, new figures show.

The Government announced 20,051 new lab-confirmed Covid cases in the UK today, down from the 20,412 infections confirmed last Tuesday.

The figure is also a fall from the 21,363 cases confirmed on Monday, with the total number of infections in the UK now at 1,410,732 since the start of the pandemic.

The Department of Health announced a further 598 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday – up 12.4 per cent from the same point last week, when 532 deaths were recorded.

Today’s death toll is the highest recorded in Britain since May 12, when 614 deaths were confirmed. The latest death figure brings the UK total to 52,745. 

Though households could be banned from mixing when the lockdown ends in a bid to ‘save Christmas’, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The paper says the ban could last until ‘close to Christmas’ to allow for a festive ‘bubble’ system. 

However no decisions have been taken about exactly what structure of tiered restrictions will replace it.

Plans for an ‘end of lockdown package’, including more details on the country’s vaccination programme, is expected to be announced next week.

On Monday, Public Health England director Susan Hopkins, warned that the tier system would have to be ‘strengthened’ to avoid a resurgence in the virus when the lockdown ends.

She said Tier One – the only level that allowed for indoor socialising – had had ‘very little effect’.

Documents released last week from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which reports to the Scientific Advisory Committee for Emergencies (Sage) said that although there was a ‘clear effect’ on infection rates from strict Tier Three interventions, there was ‘much less from Tiers One and Two’.

The SPI-M group believes infections will rise at the same rate as before if the same three-tier system is brought back in on December 2.

But many ministers fear the economy would face another heavy blow if huge numbers of businesses are forced to remain closed in the run up to Christmas.

Tory MPs are also gearing up for a fight over the issue, with one warning that up to 100 could rebel next week if the new restrictions are drawn too tightly.

A Whitehall source acknowledged that the Government would face ‘political difficulties’ if the hospitality sector is unable to reopen in the run-up to Christmas.

Oxford professor accuses No10 of being ‘institutionally racist’ for lockdown that sacrificed Diwali for Christmas 

The Government has been accused of following an ‘institutionally racist’ lockdown policy in England which has sacrificed Diwali in favour of Christmas.

Oxford University medicine professor Dr Soham Bandyopadhyay argued it was unfair that people who celebrate Diwali are now not allowed to see family.

The five-day Festival of Lights, which began on November 14, is celebrated by Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist people, of whom there are estimated to be more than 1.6million in the UK.

The holiday this year comes mid-way through England’s second coronavirus lockdown, meaning people cannot meet up with others indoors, nor in groups of more than two outside.

Dr Bandyopadhyay said the UK Government had ‘forbidden’ families from reuniting – university students cannot return home, for example – during a time based on a ‘celebration of relationships between family and friends’.

He said in a letter titled ‘An institutionally racist lockdown policy’ that this could have been avoided if Number 10 had heeded SAGE advice to do a ‘circuit breaker’ around October half term, which scientists were clamouring for it to do at the time.

The Government said it was ‘working closely with faith leaders’ and had kept places of worship open to help religious people cope with the second lockdown. 

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday that he hoped to see most hospitality firms allowed to reopen.

But he acknowledged that restrictions were likely to be only ‘somewhat easier’ after the current lockdown ends.

In a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Jenrick said any extension of the lockdown would require a vote of Parliament.

‘It is our hope and expectation that that won’t be the case and that people in England will be able to move back into the tiered system,’ he said.

Sir John Bell, a member of the Government’s vaccines taskforce, said the Government would not be able to ‘take our foot off the brake completely’ when the lockdown ends.

But he said developments in mass testing could help ease restrictions. ‘I am optimistic that we won’t have to go into the Christmas period in a lockdown,’ he said.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the original lockdown in March, said reopening pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas would be likely to lead to rising infection levels.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: ‘The big question is can we reopen… pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas and still avoid infection levels increasing?

‘I suspect we can’t, but the decision may be made to do so anyhow on the basis that any increase will be slow and may be able to be counteracted later.’

The British Medical Association last night called for the ‘rule of six’, which allowed mixing of up to six households, to be replaced with a ‘two households’ rule. 

It comes as Britain last night recorded 1.7 per cent fewer coronavirus cases compared to last week in yet another indication the UK’s second wave is slowing.

The Government announced 20,051 new lab-confirmed Covid cases in the UK today, down from the 20,412 infections confirmed last Tuesday.

The figure is also a fall from the 21,363 cases confirmed on Monday, with the total number of infections in the UK now at 1,410,732 since the start of the pandemic.

Professor Neil Ferguson (pictured), whose modelling led to the original lockdown in March, said reopening pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas would be likely to lead to rising infection levels

Professor Neil Ferguson (pictured), whose modelling led to the original lockdown in March, said reopening pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas would be likely to lead to rising infection levels

How could the new Tiers look? 

Ministers insist no final decisions have been made on the Tier system after December 2, but there have been hints at the kind of measures it could feature.

It also seems clear that in future the rules will be applied on a wider regional basis, rather than to specific towns and cities.

TIER 1

The Rule of Six looks set to continue, and the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants would still apply.

However, there is speculation that households could be restricted from meeting in homes after health chiefs said the base level was proving ineffective.

TIER 2

Tier 2 previously involved all the curbs in the first level, plus a ban on mixing with other households in any indoor setting – including pubs and restaurants.

TIER 3

Tier 3 is the highest set of restrictions currently available in the system

There is a ban on socialising indoors and in private gardens. Pubs and bars must shut unless they are able to operate as eateries.

There are restrictions on staying overnight in other parts of the country unless it is for essential work.

TIER 4?

Ministers have been hinting at another bracket of restrictions above the existing highest level – as is already the case in Scotland.

There are suggestions it could ’embed’ some of the bolt-ons to the Tier 3 restrictions already being deployed in some areas.

For example, Nottinghamshire has imposed a ban on alcohol sales after 9pm, while other areas have shut gyms and leisure centres.

The Department of Health announced a further 598 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday – up 12.4 per cent from the same point last week, when 532 deaths were recorded.

Yesterday’s death toll is the highest recorded in Britain since May 12, when 614 deaths were confirmed. The latest death figure brings the UK total to 52,745.

However, separate data from the UK’s statistic agencies suggest there have been more than 68,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

These include deaths where the virus has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days.

Meanwhile, figures released by the Office for National Statistics yesterday showed the number of people dying with Covid-19 rose by 40 per cent in the first week of November – when the virus was to blame for one in every six deaths in England and Wales. 

It was not explained last night why deaths have risen sharply, though it could be a delayed spike following a rise in Covid cases last week.  

The figures comes as Nicola Sturgeon last night announced that parts of Scotland that are home to millions of people will be moved into its toughest coronavirus level at the end of the week as she warned infection rates remain ‘stubbornly high’.

The First Minister said 11 council areas, which include the city of Glasgow, will be subject to Level Four restrictions from 6pm on Friday. The areas have a combined population of approximately 2.3million people.

People living in Level Four areas are banned from meeting with other households indoors while all non-essential shops must close.

In an announcement to the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon told people in those areas is that they ‘should not be going out and about’ while the measures are place for the three weeks – until December 11.

The SNP leader also announced she is making it illegal for people to travel into or out of Level Three and Level Four areas ‘except for certain essential purposes’.

There is already guidance in place urging people not to make such journeys, but Ms Sturgeon said the advice will become law from Friday.

It means rule-breakers face the prospect of enforcement action from the police.

Nicola Sturgeon today announced 11 local authority areas are being moved into the toughest coronavirus level from Friday

Nicola Sturgeon today announced 11 local authority areas are being moved into the toughest coronavirus level from Friday

The council areas in Scotland moving to Level Four from Friday are the City of Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.

Ms Sturgeon said there was ‘grounds for continued and significant concern’ in all of the areas being moved into Level Four.

As well as the 11 areas being elevated to the top tier, two areas are being moved from Level Three to Level Two while 19 will experience no change.

The £18bn coronavirus PPE fiasco: Devastating report exposes chronic bungling and ‘jobs for pals’ in rush to source safety gear during pandemic

By Daniel Martin and Emine Sinmaz for the Daily Mail

A devastating report today lifts the lid on the cronyism and ineptitude that has characterised the Government’s £18billion rush to source PPE and other equipment during the coronavirus crisis.

Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings were both drawn into the debacle after the spending watchdog said officials failed to consider potential conflicts of interests involving companies linked to them.

The National Audit Office revealed that officials had signed contracts for hundreds of thousands of facemasks which turned out to be unusable – wasting hundreds of millions of pounds.

The National Audit Office report found more than 1,300 contracts worth £10.5billion were awarded by the Government with no competition whatsoever

The National Audit Office report found more than 1,300 contracts worth £10.5billion were awarded by the Government with no competition whatsoever

The bombshell report found:

  • Two of the companies named in the report have links to the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser;
  • More than 1,300 contracts worth £10.5billion were awarded by the Government with no competition whatsoever – increasing the chance of money being wasted;
  • Ministers set up a separate VIP procurement route which allowed some companies to be fast-tracked for a decision – as long as they had the right connections;
  • One in ten suppliers processed through this high-priority lane (47 out of 493) obtained contracts compared with less than one in 100 suppliers that came through the ordinary lane (104 out of 14,892).

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, said: ‘The country deserves to have confidence their money is being spent effectively by the Government – and to know without doubt that friends and donors to the Conservative Party aren’t profiting from this pandemic.’

The NAO’s report looked at 8,600 contracts awarded by the Government between January and July. 

These were worth £18billion, of which £17.3billion were new contracts rather than contract extensions. Most of the money, £12.3billion, went on PPE, with the remainder going on other equipment and virus testing.

Ministers, MPs and civil servants could refer businesses to a ‘high-priority’ lane and firms which were granted this VIP access were more than ten times as likely to be awarded a contract as those in the ordinary lane. 

Leads came into a dedicated mailbox, but officials only recorded the sources in half of cases, although many were from ministerial offices following tip-offs from MPs about firms in their constituencies.

The NAO highlighted one £840,000 contract with Public First for focus groups and communications. 

Dominic Cummings was drawn into the debacle after the spending watchdog said officials failed to consider potential conflicts of interests

Dominic Cummings was drawn into the debacle after the spending watchdog said officials failed to consider potential conflicts of interests 

The policy and research firm is owned by James Frayne and his wife Rachel Wolf, both of whom have previously worked for Michael Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office. Miss Wolf co-wrote Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto.

The NAO said there was no evidence Mr Gove had been involved in the award, but ‘we found no documentation on the consideration of conflicts of interest’.

Mr Cummings’s association with Mr Frayne dates back to at least 2000, when they worked together on a campaign against Britain joining the euro. They also co-founded a Right-wing think tank.

The report discussed another potential conflict of interest in reference to Lord Agnew, a minister in the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. 

He owned shares in Faculty, an artificial intelligence firm given three coronavirus contracts worth £3million for data analysis.

Faculty is also linked to Mr Cummings. It worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, and The Guardian reported that he donated £260,000 to the firm from his company Dynamic Maps in 2018 and 2019.

A Faculty spokesman said: ‘The NAO found no evidence that Lord Agnew was involved in these procurements, which were contracted under delegated authority in different departments, none of them his own. 

The National Audit Office said there was no evidence Mr Gove had been involved in the award

The National Audit Office said there was no evidence Mr Gove had been involved in the award

‘It also found that the minister had disclosed his interests. Lord Agnew retains ownership of his shares through a blind trust.’

The report did not mention Mr Cummings’s connection to either Public First or Faculty. Mr Frayne, of Public First, said: ‘We agreed a pay-as-you-go deal where we could be terminated at any point if they weren’t happy with our work.’

A government source said Mr Gove had no involvement with the Public First contract.

Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez, said: ‘We have robust processes to ensure we get critical equipment to where it needs to go as quickly as possible, whilst also ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.’ 

Mr Cummings did not reply to a request for a comment. 

Dominic Cummings has links with two of the four companies picked out in the National Audit Office’s damning report.

The former chief adviser to the Prime Minister, 48, has connections to artificial intelligence firm Faculty and research company Public First, which have secured contracts worth more than £3.8million.

Mr Cummings was not named in the public watchdog’s devastating report, which found that bidders with ‘VIP access’ to ministers were ten times more likely to win Covid contracts than those who did not.

Mr Cummings worked with Faculty – which was awarded three contracts worth £3million for data analysis – on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.

Dominic Cummings has connections to artificial intelligence firm Faculty and research company Public First

Dominic Cummings has connections to artificial intelligence firm Faculty and research company Public First

He also has long-standing links to Public First, run by James Frayne and his wife Rachel Wolf, who co-wrote the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto.

His association with Mr Frayne dates back to at least 2000, when they worked on a campaign against Britain joining the euro.

The NAO report criticised the fact that the £840,000 Public First contract was awarded retrospectively. The report states that Public First invoiced for £550,000 in total for work covered by the contract.

It identified that the company’s founders have also worked for Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister. The report said there was no evidence that Mr Gove had been involved in the awarding of the contract, but added that it ‘found no documentation on the consideration of conflicts of interest’.

There is no evidence to suggest that Mr Cummings played any role in either firm securing the contracts.

Another company scrutinised in the report is Ayanda Capital, which was handed a £253million contract to supply PPE. 

The deal was brokered by Andrew Mills, who was one of 12 advisers to the Board of Trade, chaired by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss. Mr Mills is also a ‘senior board adviser’ to Ayanda Capital.

Some 50million masks, worth £155million, delivered by the company were of the wrong specification and cannot be used. 

Ayanda said last night: ‘Suggestions that the masks are not fit for purpose or are somehow unsafe to use by frontline NHS workers are simply untrue and we are advised defamatory.’ 

On top of the three companies identified in the NAO report, the Mail can reveal 12 more included in the graphic above. They include Meller Designs, which secured £163million in PPE contracts. It is run by Tory donor David Meller.

P14 Medical Limited was awarded three contracts worth £272million to supply PPE. Its director is former Tory councillor Steve Dechan.   



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Boris Johnson to announce tougher coronavirus restrictions


Boris Johnson will announce tougher Covid-19 restrictions in England in an admission that the government’s current approach is failing to stem an alarming second wave of the pandemic.

Mr Johnson decided to rip up his previous strategy after a new document published on Friday showed the number of coronavirus infections and hospital admissions had surpassed government scientific advisers’ worst-case scenario.

The prime minister is expected to announce on Saturday either a national lockdown in England or the addition of a tougher “tier 4” to the existing system of regional tiers.

Ministers are set to discuss the proposals at a Cabinet meeting scheduled for 1:30pm on Saturday with an announcement expected at 4pm.

Number 10 had discussed announcing the lockdown on Friday but decided to hold back for fear of causing alarm, according to government figures. 

In a document dated October 14, a scientific advisory group to the government said the number of daily deaths from coronavirus was now in line with the “reasonable worst-case” scenario.

A senior government official confirmed on Friday that the current trajectory of the virus was exceeding scientific advisers’ bleakest projections, and that any circuit-breaker lockdown would have to last longer than two weeks to have a “reasonable effect”.

Mr Johnson’s apparent shift from his current regional system of “tiers” occurred after he held crisis talks with chancellor Rishi Sunak, health secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to discuss the new data.

The prime minister is now expected to announce new measures which could amount to a national shutdown, according to briefings to The Times and the Daily Mail newspapers. Under one scenario that could mean all but essential shops, schools, universities and factories closing.

Although one Whitehall figure told the Financial Times that no final decision had yet been made, the discussions about an all-England lockdown constitute a remarkable U-turn for the government.

When Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, called for a “circuit breaker” lockdown two weeks ago the idea was roundly rejected by Mr Johnson. He has instead sought to avoid what he calls the “misery” of nationwide restrictions.

But lockdowns imposed in France and Germany this week have added to the pressure on Number 10 to take more urgent action.

Early on Friday Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, insisted that the government was committed to its current system of localised restrictions — even though he conceded the government could not rule out tougher measures.

One option on the table is to introduce a new, tougher “tier 4” which would still allow flexibility in different areas — unlike a total national lockdown.

The October 14 document by the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) said its work suggested between 43,000 and 74,000 new infections were occurring each day in England.

It added that “the number of infections and hospital admissions are breaching those in the reasonable worst-case planning scenario”.

A separate document agreed by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) dated July 30 — and obtained by the Spectator magazine — modelled a worst-case scenario for deaths in the UK of less than 100 a day throughout October.

But the document said this scenario could involve 85,000 deaths between July and the spring of next year, with a peak of 800 a day in March.

The UK on Friday reported 274 deaths from Covid-19 in the latest 24-hour period and 24,405 people testing positive.

The senior government official said that, with cases as high as they were currently, test and trace systems would not be enough to reduce the rate of viral transmission.

He added it was clear that the toughest restrictions in England known as tier 3 measures were not going far enough to keep the R number — the average number of people each infected individual passes the virus on to — below 1.

Minutes of an October 8 meeting of Sage and released on Friday said: “If there are no decisive interventions, continued growth [in hospital admissions] would have the potential to overwhelm the NHS, including the continued delivery of non-Covid treatments.”

According to data from the Office for National Statistics published on Friday, 568,100 people in England had coronavirus in the week to October 23, equating to 1 in 100. This was up from 1 in 130 in the previous week.

The government office for science estimated the R number in the UK was between 1.1 and 1.3, compared to 1.2 and 1.4 last week.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “It’s urgent Boris Johnson outlines the action he will now take to bring the virus under control and deliver on his promise to get the R below 1 quickly.”

According to government and London city hall figures, the capital was already on track to move into tier 3 restrictions within a fortnight — with the likely closure of pubs and bars — unless a rise in infections slows.

Latest coronavirus news

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Coronavirus: Boris Johnson considering tougher national measures that could mean full lockdown | UK News



The prime minister is considering new national lockdown restrictions, which could be imposed in England as early as next week.

Whitehall sources confirmed Boris Johnson met his most senior cabinet colleagues on Friday to discuss the possible toughening of restrictions in light of worsening coronavirus infection rates and hospital admission data.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove were all understood to be present at the discussion of what measures could be taken.

The potential shift in approach comes after a week in which Downing Street had insisted the tiered regional framework remained the right one, despite a ‘firebreaker’ lockdown being imposed in Wales and France and Germany both shifting from regional to national restrictions in light of rising cases.

Earlier Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had said “we are confident we’ve got the right measures in place – which is not to have a blanket approach”.

Number 10 has yet to issue a response to the reports that the prime minister could hold a press conference on Monday, or that further restrictions are imminent.

A senior government source quoted in The Times newspaper said no final decision had been made but added: “The data is really bad.

“We’re seeing COVID-19 rising all over the country and hospitals are struggling to cope. There has been a shift in our position”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We are in deeply serious situation with coronavirus spreading with ferocity.

“Boris Johnson should have used the school half term for a time limited circuit break to push infections down, fix Test and Trace and save lives.

“It’s urgent Boris Johnson outlines the action he will now take to bring the virus under control and deliver on his promise to get R (reproduction) number below 1 quickly.”



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UK coronavirus LIVE: Thousands more braced for tougher lockdown restrictions as 12-minute Covid test to be rolled out at Boots



Croatia tightens restrictions as cases rise

Croatia has tightened measures this week to fight the coronavirus after exceeding 2,000 daily cases over the weekend, by ordering the use of masks outdoors and recommending work from home wherever possible.

Also from this week, Slovenia, its northwestern neighbour in the European Union, will allow citizens to leave their municipal areas only in exceptional cases, after having reported 1,675 new infections on Sunday.

On Monday, Croatia, a nation of about 4 million people, reported 828 infections, down from Sunday’s one-day record of 2,421 new cases. Normally, the number of reported cases falls on Mondays, as a result of less testing over the weekend.

From this week Croats will have to wear masks outdoors whenever it is not possible to maintain the required physical distance.

Public gatherings are limited to no more than 50, with 30 people, at the most, allowed to attend weddings or funerals. Family gatherings can have up to 15 people.



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ACCC taking tougher stance against unfair contract terms for small business


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, through its chairman Rod Sims, has expressed its intention to take a tougher stance against unfair contract terms that affect small businesses.

In a recent address to the National Press Club, Sims called on the Federal Government to make such contract terms between big and small businesses illegal and subject to harsh penalties.

And the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, has thrown her support behind the Commission’s tougher stance.

“It’s hard to believe that in 2020 it is still not illegal for a big business to impose unfair contract terms on a small business,” Carnell said. “Small businesses has been waiting for changes to level the playing field for too long.

“In November 2016, Treasury legislation amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Act 2015 took effect, that legislation was reviewed in 2018 and here we are, another two years on and small businesses continue to be adversely impacted by big businesses with legal impunity,” Carnell added.

“It’s clear that change is long overdue. My office has been advocating for unfair contract terms legislation to be strengthened for a considerable time now, most recently in our COVID-19 Recovery Plan and our comprehensive submission to Treasury’s Review of Unfair Contract Term Protections for Small Business, in March this year.”

The ASBFEO has recommended that:

  • Unfair Contract Terms be made illegal.
  • Significant penalties and infringement notices to apply to breaches.
  • Enforcement capabilities of regulators enhanced to determine if terms are unfair.
  • Legislation extended to cover all contracts valued up to $5 million.
  • Definition of a small business be changed to those with less than $10 million turnover.

“Currently where a standard form contract contains an unfair contract term, the only way for a small business to take action is through the court system. And even if the term is proven to be unfair, there is no penalty to the big business,” Carnell said.

The ASBFEO noted that Phase I of the Access to Justice Inquiry found small businesses are unlikely to take action when faced with an unfair contract term in their standard form contract.

“Understandably, they are reluctant to damage commercial relationships and lack the resources and time to pursue litigation,” Carnell said. “By making unfair contract terms illegal, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) would be able to penalise big businesses. The sooner unfair contract terms between big businesses and small businesses is made both illegal and subject to big-stick penalties, the better.”





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Fed officials call for tougher regulation to prevent asset bubbles: FT



FILE PHOTO: The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s President and CEO Eric S. Rosengren speaks in New York, April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

October 17, 2020

(Reuters) – Tougher U.S. financial regulation is needed to avoid the rise of excessive risk-taking and asset bubbles in the markets at a time when the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates low, two senior Fed officials told the Financial Times in an article published on Saturday https://on.ft.com/3kesfsU.

Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren told the newspaper that the Fed lacked sufficient tools to prevent companies and households from taking on “excessive leverage” and called for a rethink on issues related to U.S. financial stability.

“If you want to follow a monetary policy … that applies low interest rates for a long time, you want robust financial supervisory authority in order to be able to restrict the amount of excessive risk-taking occurring at the same time,” the FT quoted him as saying.

“(Otherwise) you’re much more likely to get into a situation where the interest rates can be low for long but be counterproductive,” Rosengren said.

Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari said there was a need for stricter regulation to avert repeated interventions in the market by the Fed.

“I don’t know what the best policy solution is, but I know we can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he told the newspaper.

“As soon as there’s a risk that hits, everybody flees and the Federal Reserve has to step in and bail out that market, and that’s crazy. And we need to take a hard look at that,” he said.

A representative of the Boston Federal Reserve confirmed Rosengren’s remarks made to the Financial Times, adding he was interviewed on Oct. 8. Kashkari was not immediately available to comment on the article published on Saturday.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)





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Today’s coronavirus news: Ford to announce fall COVID-19 plan today; Hollywood unions announce pandemic agreement; UK to impose tougher measures amid case spike


KEY FACTS

  • 5:39 a.m.: Hollywood unions announce pandemic agreement

  • 5:20 a.m.: UK to impose tougher COVID-19 measures amid case spike

  • 4 a.m.: Ontario to announce fall COVID-19 plan today

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

5:39 a.m.: Hollywood’s unions have announced that they have reached an agreement on pandemic protocols with major studios that will allow the broad resumption of production of films and television after six months of stagnant sets and widespread unemployment.

The Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Basic Crafts unions and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on Monday jointly announced the deal reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers after months of planning and negotiating.

The deal includes mandatory and comprehensive use of personal protective gear and testing of cast and crew members, and a dedicated coronavirus supervisor to oversee it all.

It requires the use of a “zone system” that strictly limits interactions between people on sets based on their job’s requirements. Those who must deal with more people will be tested more frequently and have more strict protective equipment and spacing requirements. Actors will be tested especially often because their on-camera work won’t allow for many protective measures.

5:37 a.m.: India on Tuesday confirmed over 75,000 new coronavirus cases and more than 1,000 deaths in the past 24 hours.

With more than 5.5 million cases, India is behind only the United States in total number of confirmed infections. India’s death toll from the virus is nearly 89,000.

So far, nearly 76% of the new virus cases are concentrated in 10 states, with Maharashtra in central India accounting for almost a quarter of new infections on Monday.

Daily new infections in India have been hovering around 90,000 for the past few days, but experts point out that testing still varies from state to state. And new surges have been detected in states that had so far been left relatively unscathed by the virus.

5:31 a.m.: The Pakistani prime minister’s health adviser says authorities have begun much-awaited final-phase testing of a Chinese-made vaccine against the coronavirus.

In Tuesday’s televised comments, Faisal Sultan, who advises Prime Minister Imran Khan on health issues, said the clinical trials will continue for about 12 weeks.

The latest development comes weeks after Pakistan approved advanced clinical trials for potential vaccines at the country’s main health facilities. Pakistan has said the vaccine produced by CanSinoBio, a China-based vaccine developer, and Beijing Institute of Biotechnology will be used during the clinical trials.

5:26 a.m.: The coronavirus pandemic has fractured global relationships. But as director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong has helped to steer Africa’s 54 countries into an alliance praised as responding better than some richer countries, including the United States.

A former U.S. CDC official, he modeled Africa’s version after his ex-employer. Nkengasong is pained to see the U.S. agency struggle. In an interview with The Associated Press, he didn’t name U.S President Donald Trump but cited “factors we all know.”

While the U.S. nears 200,000 COVID-19 deaths and the world approaches 1 million, Africa’s surge has been levelling off. Its 1.4 million confirmed cases are far from the horrors predicted. Antibody testing is expected to show many more infections, but most cases are asymptomatic. Just over 34,000 deaths are confirmed on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

5:20 a.m.: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to announce new restrictions on social interactions Tuesday as the government tries to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it spirals out of control.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told Sky News that pubs and restaurants across England will be ordered to close at 10 p.m. and people who can work from home will be encouraged to do so, reversing a government drive to get people back to their offices and other places of employment.

Gove said reducing “social mixing” was key to slowing the spread of the virus. He said it was impossible to say how long the restrictions would be in place.

The prime minister is set to release further details when he speaks to the House of Commons at around 12:30 p.m. (1130 GMT) after meeting the Cabinet and the government’s COBRA emergency committee. He will later deliver a televised address to the nation.

5:14 a.m.: Mobile apps tracing new COVID-19 cases were touted as a key part of Europe’s plan to beat the coronavirus outbreak. Seven months into the pandemic, virus cases are surging again and the apps have not been widely adopted due to privacy concerns, technical problems and lack of interest from the public.

Britain, Portugal, and Finland this month became the latest to unveil smartphone apps that alert people if they’ve been near someone who turned out to be infected so they can seek treatment or isolate – a key step in breaking the chain of contagion.

But a few countries have scrapped their tracing apps and others that have rolled them out have found so few users that the technology is not very effective. The adoption rate goes from about a third of the population in Finland and Ireland, to 22% in Germany and a meagre 4% in France.

5:11 a.m.: British Columbia’s election is entering its first full day with the three party leaders embarking on a campaign against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

B.C. Premier John Horgan made the snap election call on Monday, conceding that he struggled with whether it’s the right time for a campaign because of the pandemic.

As the leader of a minority NDP government, Horgan says he decided the province needs more stability to face the health and economic challenges ahead and waiting another year to hold the election when it was scheduled would be wasting time.

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and the Green party’s Sonia Furstenau criticized Horgan’s decision, saying the election is unnecessary during the pandemic.

The campaign begins as the number of cases of COVID-19 rises in the province, with record daily infection rates recorded.

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5 a.m.: A new survey suggests the recent rise in new COVID-19 cases across Canada comes with a similar increase in support for the mandatory wearing of masks in public places.

The online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies says 83 per cent of respondents feel governments should order people to wear a mask in all indoor public spaces.

That represented a 16 per cent increase from July, before the recent rise in COVID-19 cases has sparked concerns many parts of the country are entering the dreaded second wave of the pandemic.

Even more — 87 per cent — felt wearing a mask was a civic duty because it protects others from COVID-19 while 21 per cent felt it was an infringement on personal freedoms, a decline of six per cent from July.

As for the anti-mask protests that have happened in various parts of the country in recent weeks, 88 per cent of respondents said they opposed the demonstrations while 12 per cent supported them.

The online poll was conducted Sept. 18 to 20 and surveyed 1,538 adult Canadians. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

4 a.m.: Ontario is expected to announce its COVID-19 fall preparedness plan today.

Premier Doug Ford has promised the plan will help the province grapple with a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus.

The strategy comes as daily virus case counts continue to climb to levels not seen for months in Ontario.

Ford has been under pressure to release the updated plan as opposition politicians say it should have come weeks earlier.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says parts of the plan are currently being implemented, including increased testing capacity.

The new plan comes as Ontario continues to struggle with long line ups at some of its 147 COVID-19 assessment centres.

Monday 7:11 p.m. There have been another four deaths in B.C. due to COVID-19 complications.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says two people died in the Vancouver Coastal health region over the past three days, one in Fraser Health and one in the Northern Health region — only the second death in that area since the pandemic began.

Another 366 positive cases have been added over three days for a total of 8,208.

There are 60 people in hospital and almost 6,000 people are considered recovered.

Click here for more of Monday’s COVID-19 coverage.





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From Apple to Coke, global brands are having a tougher time in China


Western brands are having to work harder to win over customers in China.

Where American or European companies could once expect to find an enormous market hungry for their products, changing tastes and the challenge from new Chinese rivals are forcing them to adopt new strategies to succeed in the world’s second biggest economy.

The sterner challenge facing big names such as Starbucks (SBUX) and Apple (AAPL) has nothing to do with the trade war. At least, not yet. It’s about new competition and increased wealth.

“It doesn’t work to just show up anymore,” said Benjamin Cavender, a Shanghai-based analyst at consulting firm China Market Research Group, referring to brands that are household names in the West. “Chinese consumer tastes are evolving rapidly.”

Coca-Cola (CCE) is one of the top companies that’s having to adapt to this new reality.

“We’ve seen a tremendous change in the consumption patterns,” Curtis Ferguson, the company’s China CEO, told CNN at last week’s World Economic Forum in the Chinese city of Tianjin.

Coke has launched more than 30 new drink brands in China in the past six months and now has about 275 in total, Ferguson said. They range from regular Coke to more exotic varieties with flavorings like yellow bean and apple fiber. Coke even has its own line of teas in China.

That’s a big change from the Atlanta-based company’s previous approach of relying on the strength of its brand.

coca cola plus china
Coke has launched more than 30 new drink brands in China in the past six months. This ad is for an apple fiber drink.

The philosophy was “let them drink Coke,” Ferguson said. He argued Western companies can’t afford to treat their brands as sacrosanct.

“Either you destroy your own brand in China, or someone else is going to do it for you,” he said.

Starbucks scrambles to keep up

Starbucks learned the difficulties of shifting Chinese consumer habits the hard way.

The coffee chain has about 3,000 stores in the country, making it one of its top markets. But in June, the company reported a sudden slowdown in growth in China, just weeks after it had announced plans for rapid expansion there.

That’s partly because it faces growing competition from an upstart local competitor. Luckin Coffee opened its first store in China less than a year ago. Now it has more than 500. Many of its customers order coffees online for delivery or takeout. Chinese consumers are also increasingly turning to delivery apps, like Meituan Dianping, for food or drinks.

“Starbucks has always been slow adopting technology in China,” Cavender said. Its customers “were tired of waiting in line to place orders.”

The global coffee giant is now trying to correct course. In August, it teamed up with Alibaba (BABA), China’s largest e-commerce company, to launch delivery services.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery Shanghai
Starbucks opened its largest store in the world in Shanghai last year. This year, it launched delivery services.

Automakers face ‘big challenge’

Global carmakers are also scrambling to keep pace with changes in China’s auto market, the world’s biggest. It’s being shaken up by the rapid spread of electric vehicles, which have been promoted through government subsidies, resulting in a crowded market.

Francois Provost, Asia-Pacific chairman of Renault (RNLSY), said the French carmaker is now fighting competition from both traditional rivals and new upstarts in China. Local player Nio (NIO), for example, sells an SUV in China that costs about half the price of Tesla’s (TSLA) Model X.

Tesla to build factory in China

Sticker price is crucial in China, Provost said, as most customers are first-time buyers. But drivers are also demanding electric vehicles with longer battery life as networks of charging stations are still being built out across the country.

“The big challenge is increasing the efficiency of the range and reducing user costs at the same time,” Provost said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum. That will be tough for automakers, he predicts: “I can’t honestly say we have full visibility on this.”

Apple’s losing the innovation race

Apple (AAPL) has lost market share in China to local rivals over the past two years. The iPhone accounts for less than 10% of smartphone sales in the country, analysts estimate. In the United States, it accounts for about 40%.

Apple is facing fierce competition from Chinese players such as Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi.

Can Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi survive a trade war?

“In recent years, Apple has slid quite a lot in the Chinese market,” said Canalys researcher Mo Jia. “The very aggressive tech innovation from Chinese brands is changing the high-end landscape.”

The US company’s latest models, the XS and XS Max, include features that could boost their appeal in the Chinese market, like dual SIM cards and a larger screen. But analysts are skeptical these will make much difference.

“Apple is fighting a bit of a losing battle,” Cavender said.

— Sherisse Pham and Rishi Iyengar contributed to this report.

CNNMoney (Hong Kong) First published September 25, 2018: 10:23 PM ET



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AustralianSuper seeks tougher penalties for Rio Tinto cave blast


“We have asked the board to reconsider its response, and are continuing to engage with the company on the matter.”

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After a two-month review into the destruction that left the site’s traditional owners devastated, Rio Tinto on Monday said the investigation had found systemic flaws but “no single root cause or error” and had concluded that the three executives’ failures were of “omission rather than commission” as they had not been aware of the rock shelters’ cultural value prior to detonation.

Mr Jacques would be stripped of 2020 bonus payments worth about $4.8 million, while Ms Niven and Mr Salisbury would lose about $1 million each. In 2019, Mr Jacques received a salary of £5.79 million ($10.5 million).

The announcement raised immediate concerns from activist groups and institutional investors that the proposed consequences failed to deliver on meaningful accountability.

“The report highlights profound systemic, operational and governance failings,” Mr Silk said.

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The $52 billion superannuation fund HESTA, which also invests in Rio, noted the findings that the blasting of the gorge, although legally sanctioned, had fallen “well short” of the miner’s own standards but had failed to specify who was ultimately responsible for adhering to those standards and for ongoing oversight of heritage management.

“The report fails to assuage investor concerns about the gap in Rio Tinto’s public commitment to lead on heritage protection, and its actions,” HESTA chief executive Debby Blakey said.

Australian Council of Superannuation Investors chief executive Louise Davidson called on Rio’s board to explain why greater accountability was not being applied in light of the disaster. “Remuneration appears to be the only sanction applied to executives,” Ms Davidson said. “This raises the question – does the company feel that £4 million is the right price for the destruction of cultural heritage?”

Other major investors, including UK’s Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, have welcomed Rio’s release of the internal review and bonus cuts for the three executives as a “proper and appropriate first step”.

Rio Tinto has acknowledged “you cannot put a monetary value” on the loss of the Juukan site .”But these are significant penalties,” Mr Thompson said of the pay cuts on Monday. “I think they reflect both the seriousness of the incident and the damage that has been done to Rio Tinto’s reputation.”

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